Up Close with Allyson Ernst (Miami'16)
Miami Evans Scholar Allyson Ernst’s love of nature runs deep and manifests itself in ways big and small.
Sometimes in ways really small.
As a senior double-majoring in zoology and environmental science, Allyson spent last summer working in Miami’s Global Change Limnology Lab counting tiny zooplankton contained in water samples shipped to Oxford from Lake Annie, Florida.
To many, this work sounds grueling and tedious. To Allyson, it was invigorating.
“The best thing about it was that no one had ever counted the zooplankton before,” she said. “I was the first person to open some of the samples from 10 years ago. I was like Magellan with a bottle. It was incredible to know that my data will help researchers near Lake Annie better understand what is going on in their lake.”
Upon graduating from Miami, Allyson hopes to become a full-time naturalist in a local parks system and one day land a job at Yellowstone National Park.
We talked with the Harrison, Ohio, native and Clovernook Country Club caddie about her love of nature, her academic interests and her experience as an Evans Scholar.
Q) How did you become interested in zoology?
My uncle is an avid outdoorsman, but had no children of his own, so he would often take me hunting or fishing with him. I really got my love of nature from him. One of his favorite things to tell me was that you can learn more by paying attention in the woods for one day than you could in an entire year of school. His influence really helped me decide to pursue zoology and environmental science.
Q) What is your earliest memory of wanting to study zoology?
When I was in grade school I wanted to be a paleontologist and dig up dinosaurs. As I got older, I realized that I couldn't make a living doing that, and didn’t have the time or resources to go to school for 10 years. It was probably in high school that I figured out that studying zoology was probably the next best thing. I’m so glad that I did, because it’s changed my life.
Q) Was there a class you took at Miami that influenced your decision to pursue a career as a naturalist?
One of my fondest memories was taking a class called Ecological Restoration. A client wanted the wetlands on her property fixed up, so we were given a budget and told to make it happen. It was a lot of hard, wet and wild work, but really gave us a sense of accomplishment. It was neat to see all these theories and management practices that I had learned come together and culminate in this wetlands restoration.
Q) Based on what you’ve learned, what do you think are some of the most pressing issues facing the environment?
The biggest challenge facing our environment is a lack of education and general apathy. It’s really disappointing. People either don’t know or don’t want to know how we are harming the environment. As long as they are comfortable in their air-conditioned bubble with their cellphones and computers, they don't see the need to do anything. That is why I think it's so important to get people out in the woods, out into the prairies and out onto the lakes and rivers. I bet people would never look at nature the same way if they interacted with it on a regular basis. There is so much beauty and life all around us.
Q) What is your dream job?
Head naturalist at Yellowstone National Park. Can you imagine the number of people I could share my love of the outdoors with?
Q) How will you remember your time as an Evans Scholar?
My experience as an Evans Scholar has taught me to always be grateful and always act like someone who is worthy of the Evans Scholarship. The day my mom dropped me off on campus, she told me, “Someone you may never meet is investing thousands of dollars for you to go here. Don’t ever make them regret that decision.” That has been my goal each and every day. The Evans Scholarship means so much to me and my family. I don’t think I could ever repay what this life-changing gift has done for me.